Justin Turner just in time as Dodgers even NLCS on his eighth-inning blastOctober 14, 2018
MILWAUKEE — Justin Turner kept his bat pointed high above his head because he earned the right to, because he had just crushed a baseball that flew into the second deck and woke up a Los Angeles Dodgers dugout that, moments before, was brimming with blank stares.
Turner’s two-run home run, off Milwaukee Brewers all-star reliever Jeremy Jeffress, with no outs in the eighth inning of a game the Brewers once owned, delivered a 4-3 win for the Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday. The blast also lifted a team that was reeling toward back-to-back losses and showed that, despite their reputations, the Brewers’ bullpen is beatable and the Dodgers can win without dominant starting pitching.
Before stepping into the batter’s box against Jeffress, Turner struck out four times in Game 1, poked a single in the first inning of Game 2 and was again bothered by the Brewers’ approach in his next two at-bats. Then the third baseman struck the biggest hit of the best-of-seven series, tying it at a game apiece as it swings to Los Angeles for three games starting Monday.
It felt as if Miller Park was shaking a hangover Saturday morning, as if the stadium’s shades were still drawn, with the field quiet and dimmed aside from a few specks of orange light. A pair of Dodgers slowly jogged around the warning track. The concourse smelled like the first batch of cheese curds that would soon multiply into thousands of pieces of fried dairy. Two Brewers fans waited outside the ticket window, lobbing a baseball through the wind-whipped air.
The night before, an evening this city waited seven years for, the Brewers earned a 6-5 win that flirted with disaster. The Dodgers staged a late rally against the Brewers’ feared bullpen, and put the tying run on third base before Corey Knebel struck out Turner to end it. Earlier in the game, Brandon Woodruff became the first Brewers reliever to hit a postseason home run when he clubbed a fastball over the right-center-field wall. And that fastball was thrown by Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ ace, one of the best pitchers of the last decade, who lasted just three innings before Manager Dave Roberts reached into his bullpen.
The Dodgers’ relievers were solid. The Brewers’, aside from Josh Hader, were not. But when all the outs and absurdities were added up, they totaled the Brewers’ 12th straight victory, and now all of Milwaukee can get a free hamburger at George Webb from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday.
That was a lot to wake up to.
But Game 2 was much more normal — at least at the beginning, at least by October’s twisted standards — as both starters settled into an early groove.
Wade Miley, the Brewers’ lefty who led Roberts to stack his lineup with eight right-handed hitters, leaned on Lorenzo Cain’s legs and glove in the first inning. Cain, the Brewers’ center fielder, bobbled a pop-up in the ninth inning of Game 1 and was offered redemption by the third hitter on Saturday. David Freese skied a ball toward the wall in right-center and Cain tracked it on the run, chopped his steps on the warning track and jumped to snatch it, his body fully extended. That kept two runs off the scoreboard and left Cain grinning toward the infield. Miley then set down 16 consecutive hitters.
Hyun-jin Ryu, the Dodgers’ lefty who threw seven scoreless innings in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, matched Miley until the second hitter of the bottom of the fifth. That was when Orlando Arcia sneaked a home run over the center field wall, his second of the playoffs after hitting just three in 119 regular season games. It was followed by a single from Miley — giving him two hits, one more than the Dodgers to that point of the afternoon — at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat, then a double from Cain. Ryu was pulled, and Ryan Braun doubled the deficit with an RBI groundout off reliever Ryan Madson.
Once Miley exited, to a standing ovation after 5 ⅓ shutout innings, Travis Shaw homered for the Brewers, and the Dodgers stared down a three-run deficit in the game and a possible 2-0 hole in the series. But they pieced together a seventh-inning rally to pull within one run, on an RBI single for Cody Bellinger and RBI walk for Austin Barnes, before Turner stepped to the plate in the top of the eighth.
The Brewers had beaten him with high pitches across Games 1 and 2, one after another after another, but Jeffress did not take the same approach. The right-hander
missed inside with a two-seam fastball and low with a splitter, then threw his next pitch somewhere between the two. Turner got every bit of it and the Dodgers’ dugout leaped into motion as he trotted along the first base line, their limbs twitched by sudden energy, their faces filled with relief.
They could now take comfort in this game following a more traditional script, that their offense completed a comeback, that the Brewers bullpen has not been as dominant as advertised, that they left Miller Park much like they found it at the start of the day, quiet and emptying, wondering what could possibly happen next.